Beyond Case-Studies: History as Philosophy

  • Hasok Chang
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 263)


Dissatisfaction with hasty philosophical generalizations from a small number of conveniently chosen case-studies has contributed significantly to a widespread disillusionment with the whole enterprise of integrated history and philosophy of science. The history-philosophy relationship should be seen as one between the concrete and the abstract, not between the particular and the general. An abstract framework is necessary for telling any concrete stories at all. If historians do not find appropriate philosophical concepts with which to frame their episodes, then they ought to create fresh ones. Thus history-writing can serve an effective method of generating new philosophical insights. I illustrate these claims with two episodes from my own recent work. First, an inability to make sense of the original development of thermometry led me to craft a new philosophical framework of “epistemic iteration”, which involves accepting an unjustified starting-point for a process of self-correction and refinement. Second, a puzzle about the apparently insufficient reasons for the switch to Lavoisier’s new paradigm resulted in a move to a more commodious philosophical framework of analysis, in which theory-choice is understood as a pluralistic process of interaction between systems of scientific practice.


Scientific Practice Scientific Revolution Philosophical Concept Epistemic Activity Philosophical Framework 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Bacon, Francis. 2000. Novum Organum, edited by by Lisa Jardine and Micheal Silverthorne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Brooke, John Hedley. 1981. “Avogadro’s Hypothesis and Its Fate: A Case-Study in the Failure of Case-Studies.” History of Science 19: 235–73.Google Scholar
  3. Burian, Richard M. 2001. “The Dilemma of Case Studies Resolved: The Virtues of Using Case Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science.” Perspectives on Science 9: 383–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chang, Hasok. 1995. “Circularity and Reliability in Measurement.” Perspectives on Science 3: 153–72.Google Scholar
  5. Chang, Hasok. 2004. Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chang, Hasok. 2007. “Scientific Progress: Beyond Foundationalism and Coherentism.” In Philosophy of Science, edited by Anthony O’Hear. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 61, 1–20. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Chang, Hasok. 2009. “We Have Never Been Whiggish (About Phlogiston).” Centaurus 51: 239–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chang, Hasok. 2010. “The Hidden History of Phlogiston: How Philosophical Failure Can Generate Historiographical Refinement.” HYLE – International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry 16(2): 47–79.Google Scholar
  9. Chang, Hasok. Forthcoming. Is Water H2O? Evidence, Realism and Pluralism. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  10. Kitcher, Philip. 1993. The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions. New York, NY, and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Kuhn, Thomas S. 1971. “Notes on Lakatos.” In PSA 1970: In Memory of Rudolf Carnap, edited by Roger C. Buck and Robert S. Cohen. Vol. 8 of Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 137–46. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  13. Kuhn, Thomas S. 1977a. “The Relations Between the History and the Philosophy of Science.” In The Essential Tension, 3–20. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Kuhn, Thomas S. 1977b. “Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice.” In The Essential Tension, 320–39. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. Kuhn, Thomas S. 1980. “The Halt and the Blind.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 31: 181–92.Google Scholar
  16. Kuhn, Thomas S. [1991] 2000. “The Trouble with the Historical Philosophy of Science.” In The Road Since Structure, edited by James Conant and John Haugeland, 105–20. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. From a lecture delivered in 1991 at Harvard University.Google Scholar
  17. Lakatos, Imre. 1971. “History of Science and its Rational Reconstructions.” In PSA 1970: In Memory of Rudolf Carnap, edited by Roger C. Buck and Robert S. Cohen. Vol. 8 of Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 91–136. Dordrecht: Reidel. Also reprinted in Colin Howson, ed., Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  18. Lamé, Gabriel. 1836. Cours de physique de l’Ecole Polytechnique. Paris: Bachelier.Google Scholar
  19. Musgrave, Alan. 1976. “Why Did Oxygen Supplant Phlogiston? Research Programmes in the Chemical Revolution.” In Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences, edited by C. Howson, 181–209. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pitt, Joseph C. 2001. “The Dilemma of Case Studies: Toward a Heraclitian Philosophy of Science.” Perspectives on Science 9: 373–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pyle, Andrew. 2000. “The Rationality of the Chemical Revolution.” In After Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend, edited by Robert Nola and Howard Sankey, 99–124. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations